Safe House is going to win no prizes for originality. Ryan Reynolds plays Matt, a CIA operative with the lowly task as the “caretaker” of The Agency’s seldom used safe house in Cape Town. So it’s a welcome taste of responsibility when legendary rogue agent Tobin Frost arrives in custody and he’s tasked with looking after him before he’s interrogated.
Matt’s duties quickly involve more than making the tea as the safe house is immediately attacked and he’s forced to take Frost on the run with him, all the while maintaining contact with his superiors back in Langley (Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga and Sam Shepard). Things get more complicated when Matt stops to think and with Frost’s prompting realises that there’s a traitor in the ranks.
Denzel Washington could play this role in his sleep and he’s barely stretching himself as arch-manipulator Frost. That said, he’s got some memorable scenes – informing his interrogators that they’re using the wrong towels prior to his own waterboarding; getting Matt to question his own loyalties and displaying some Bourne-esque fighting skills.
It’s refreshing to see Ryan Reynolds cast in a role where he’s not a wise-cracking smart alec (tested to the limit recently in the woeful Green Lantern) and as a result his naturally likability allows him a performance that has more depth than expected.
Director Daniel Espinosa wisely keeps the pace brisk – in fact the entire film after the escape is shot like one long chase scene peppered with a fight here and a shoot out there. The fight scenes are particularly good and are realistically brutal (a highlight being a dust up with Joel Kinnamon that lasts a good five minutes).
The cinematography by Oliver Wood (who was also behind the camera for the last two Bourne films) makes great use of the urban locations –a chase over the tin roofs of a township and a thrilling escape in a crowded football forming exciting set pieces.
The problem is that everything’s far too familiar and predictable. It’s all too easy to guess the film’s supposed twists and consequently there’s no pay off when they’re revealed. There’s also a disappointing waste of some fine actors – Brendan Gleeson is given little to do but to squander Vera Farmiga’s talents is almost criminal.
As audiences will have worked out where the film’s going by about 30 minutes in, it overstays its welcome by about 20 minutes. It might be full of action, but it quickly starts to drag its feet in the final act. Nevertheless Safe House is a decently made if undemanding thriller with some solid performances – just nothing else to distinguish itself from others of the same genre. Safe indeed.